The debate over which streaming platform is worth the money continues. There’s Apple TV+, with its big budget productions and star power. There’s Disney+, the success of which will likely hinge upon our nature to fall right into a nostalgia trap. And HBO Max hasn’t launched yet, but it sounds like it could be the premiere destination for reboots.
Apple TV+, the first of the new streaming vanguard to debut its content, has tried to push The Morning Show upon subscribers, hoping that Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon would be big enough draws, but the show debuted to a tepid response from critics and fans alike. On the other hand, Dickinson, which reimagines the young adult life of poetic genius Emily Dickinson has received mostly positive reviews. Critics have called it daring and original and the show has been picked up for a second season.
But perhaps the greatest hope for Apple TV + to convert naysayers involves M. Night Shyamalan.
Shyamalan has something of a mixed track record. The Sixth Sense received six Academy Award nominations in 2000. Unbreakable and the Joaquin Phoenix-led sci fi thriller Signs were both well-reviewed. However, films like Lady in the Water and The Happening have been panned by some as corny or campy. Some of the filmmaker’s work was underestimated by critics at the time of its release but acquired a cult favorite status later. The Village, perhaps Shyamalan’s most underrated movie, is one example. The new Apple TV+ project Servant—which he produced and directed a few episodes of, but did not write or create—marks his return to television, and it might just live up to the hype.
Without spoiling it, Servant follows a married couple named Dorothy and Sean Turner (played by Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbel). When they welcome a young nanny named Leanne Grayson (played by Game of Thrones actress Nell Tiger Free) into their home to watch their newborn son, Jericho, a hidden truth begins to unfold.
The series has many of the hallmarks of a typical Shyamalan project—it takes place in Philadelphia, sets up a few big twists before the end of the first episode (and surprises viewers with more throughout the show), and is delightfully creepy. The focus on religious motifs brings to mind gothic writers like Edgar Allan Poe and classic horror films like Rosemary’s Baby.
But the best parts of Servant, aside from the kitchen in the Turners’ Philadelphia brownstone, are the performances each actor brings to the table. Ambrose—whose big break came nearly two decades ago on Six Feet Under, another show which deftly navigates the concept of grief—is both funny and tragic without ever being too on-the-nose. Free is chilling as Leanne. And Kebbel as Sean, a “professional bon vivant”, will have you craving a gourmet meal after each episode. Rupert Grint plays Julian Pearce, Dorothy’s brother, bringing a darkly comic edge to a devastating situation. You’ll have to watch for yourself to determine what you think about baby Jericho.
Before the show even premiered, Apple ordered a second season of Servant. And the platform is also testing something new with the release. For now, the first three episodes are available to give you a taste, but the rest will be rolled out one by one, weekly. Basically, you can’t binge it, but you can—and very well might—obsess over it.